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Will Rishi Sunak lose his seat?

The Prime Minister should not be complacent.

By Ben Walker

Yorkshire is known for its rolling hills and smart village streets. All of this, of course, masks acute rural deprivation. Labour has seen its support increase in similar areas across the country. The party’s by-election win in Mid Bedfordshire last October reminded us that it can campaign effectively in rural England when it tries; that door-knocking and public meetings are still an effective way of marshalling votes.

This brings us to Richmond and Northallerton, Rishi Sunak’s Yorkshire seat. Thanks to the Conservative free fall, a number of models suggest the race in this Norman town will be a close call. Will the Prime Minister lose his electoral refuge?

It would be an understatement to say Labour has historically been weak here. Not once in this century, for example, has the Richmondshire District Council elected a Labour councillor. There are few Labour activists, few council candidates, and very little organised effort when party morale has been low.

But things may be different this time around. Is there hidden Labour strength? The party did well across North Yorkshire in the York and North Yorkshire mayoral election earlier this year, pulling in a healthy 29 per cent in the administrative county (not including York). A constituency poll by Survation suggests Sunak’s own lead in the area is 11 points over Labour (though this is down from 47 in the last election).

Here is how the Survation poll compares to our model:

But constituency polls are not definitive measures of public opinion. They can gesture towards a vague direction of travel. But they don’t have form when calling elections down to a decimal place. So this poll basically confirms what we already know. The Conservative vote is down everywhere, and it’s down in its safe seats too, including the Prime Minister’s.

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Can Labour win it?

There are a few ways to look at this. If you expect the Conservative vote to rally around the Prime Minister then it will be an easy Conservative hold. If a decent number of Labour-hating (but only Tory-disliking) Reform voters come out for the Conservatives then it will also be an easy Conservative hold (this contingent exists, but they make up only about 10 per cent of the present Reform vote). And we should remain aware of the possibility that declarations of apathy among the Conservative base are overstated. But even if none of these things happen I still think a Conservative hold is more likely than not.

Plenty of Liberal Democrat and Green voters could tactically go to Labour. But even accounting for that, the party will still miss out. Sunak shouldn’t be complacent – these figures are only just above the error margin from going in Labour’s favour.

I am reminded of Michael Portillo in 1997 when, despite being touted as a future Conservative leader, he lost his Enfield seat. It was a shock to party activists who had assumed he was home and dry. But an outsized swing against the Conservatives saw a Labour victory.

Richmond and Enfield are, of course, very different constituencies. The odds are a probable Conservative hold. But it’s not a guarantee.

[See also: The Tory betting scandal symbolises the party’s carelessness in government]

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